If you have a child hoping to go to university in the next few years, chances are that you are more than a little concerned by the jump in tuition fees. Here's what you can do to prepare your finances and theirs for university life.
For those that know what they want to do when they 'grow up', going to university can be an essential step onto the career ladder.
However, with tuition fees set to rise to anything up to £9,000 a year, getting a degree has never been less affordable.
If you or your children are planning to go to university in the not too distant future it's essential that you consider how you'll cover the cost sooner rather than later.
Here are our 10 top tips for preparing financially for university.
1. Find out what it will cost
With the impending changes to university fees, one of the first steps you need to take is to check exactly how much your son or daughter is likely to have to pay.
Students starting their education from 2012 onwards will fall into the higher fee threshold where universities can charge anywhere up to £9,000 a year in fees alone.
However, not all institutions have decided to set their fees to this maximum level. As such it is worth checking directly how much the universities your son or daughter is looking at plan to charge for their chosen subject and take this into consideration before they apply.
Aside from tuition fees, the accommodation costs that students have to pay while studying tend to represent one of the biggest outlays.
Most undergraduate students spend the first year of their university life in university halls of residence before moving into private rented accommodation.
However, this is by no means the only option and it is worth considering if student halls are the best choice.
Compare their cost of staying in halls to that of renting a room in a house in the town or city your child will be studying.
Equally, if your son or daughter is studying closer to home then they may save money by commuting to university rather than paying accommodation costs.
Some student halls may be catered, meaning that they cost more but will provide meals for your son or daughter; again you need to think whether this represents good value for money and whether they would spend more on food if left to their own devices?
Your son or daughter may also be able to cut the costs of student accommodation by volunteering as a warden, although this is not always open to undergraduate students.
2. Start saving
There can be little denying that the cost of a university education is set to increase dramatically over the next few years, making saving in advance a must for any potential student and their parents.
Even if your son or daughter is heading off to university in just a few months, it is never too late to start putting money aside, especially as the first few months can be some of the most expensive.
You can also encourage them to do the same by taking advantage of the better interest rates offered to under 18s.
Compare the best instant access accounts to find an option that helps you and your child save for the cost of university life and lets you draw your money when you need to.
3. Check for bursaries and grants
As part of the upcoming changes, any university wanting charge above £6,000 per year (it's looking likely that the majority will) has to prove they are making their courses accessible to students from all financial backgrounds.
As such, there should be a greater number of bursaries and grants available from universities, especially for students from low income backgrounds.
Checking each university's website for grants and bursaries and applying for any that you are eligible for is a good way of reducing the cost of your child's university education.
The National Scholarship Programme
From autumn 2012 there will also be a new National Scholarship Programme with £50m of funding from the government.
Full details of who will be eligible for a scholarship are not yet known, although anyone with a declared income over £25,000 will not be able to apply (it's not quite clear whether this applies to household income or that of an individual applicant).
However, awards are being set to a minimum value of £2,000 - of which there is no maximum amount that can be given in cash.
A National Scholarship Award could make a sizable dent in the cost of going to university for your child, so make sure you keep an eye on university websites for more details when they become available.
Let you children know that grades pay
Scholarships for students from higher income families are less readily available, however if your son or daughter is an A grade student then they may qualify for an award.
Most universities offer money to the highest academic achievers, to encourage applications from more able students. So if your son or daughter needs any extra motivation to study, the possibility of a financial reward for their efforts could help spur them on.
4. Apply for government support
If your family income is below a certain threshold you can apply for a government support grant to help you pay for part of the cost of going to university.
For the 2014/15 academic year this threshold is set at £42,620 or less. The full grant is only available to households earning less than £25,000. Households earning less than the threshold limit will instead be entitled to portion of the grant.
The maximum grant limit is £3,387 for 2014/15.
If your son or daughter may be eligible for a grant then you should definitely apply, as they don't have to pay this money back.
However, following the 2015 summer budget, student maintenance grants are to be replaced with loans from the 2016-17 academic year.
The new student maintenance loans will need to be paid back by qualifying students once that start earning at least £21,000, with the maximum amount you can borrow set to increase to £8,200.
Visit the Student Finance website for more information and to apply.
5. Apply for Student Finance
Although tuition fees are set to go through the roof, your children should not have to pay them up front in full but can instead apply for a student loan to cover the cost.
The student loan that your son or daughter can apply for is split into a tuition fee loan and a maintenance loan:
Tuition fee loan
The tuition fee loan is paid directly to your son or daughters university to cover the annual costs of their tuition fees.
This means that the money never actually passes through their bank account but that they don't have to worry about finding the thousands of pounds in fees before they start.
The maintenance loan is designed to help provide funds to cover the costs of living while studying.
Unlike the tuition fee part of the loan, the amount your child will be eligible for will depend on your household income and where they are living during study.
For example in 2014/15 the maximum available to students was as follows:
£4,418 for students living at home while studying
£5,555 for students living outside of London and away from home
£7,751 for students living in London and away from home
72% off the maintenance loan is available to all UK applicants regardless of income; the rest is dependent on your total household income.
Remember, while a student loan is likely to be one of the cheapest ways of borrowing money it will still have to be repaid once your son or daughter is working and earning enough to pay it back.
You should carefully consider just how much they need to borrow rather than just applying for the full amount. For more information on student loans, visit the Directgov website.
6. Compare student bank accounts
Researching the best student bank accounts before your son or daughter heads off to university is one way of preparing their finances ahead of the start of term.
A student bank account is likely to be the centre of your child's finances throughout their university life and as such choosing an account that best suits their needs could save them quite a substantial sum over the duration of a 3 or 4 year university course.
The biggest asset that is ordinarily associated with student bank accounts is the interest free overdraft facility on offer. These can be anywhere up to £3,000 in the first year and can prove to be a cheap way to borrow money when compared to student credit cards and bank loans.
Of course, any money that is borrowed through an interest free overdraft must be paid back after graduation, or significant interest will start to be charged. As such these should be used sparingly.
Many student accounts also offer other 'perks' such as travel insurance or a student rail card that may prove useful and save your child money during their university life.
You can compare the different student accounts and the facilities they offer using our student bank account comparison table.
7. Re-examine your finances
One way that you may be able to help your son or daughter is by cutting your costs in other areas allowing you to save more towards their university fund.
Your utility bills, mortgage provider and financial products are just some of the areas you might want to consider reviewing.
8. Prepare a budget
If your son or daughter has had little experience in managing their money, then once you know what their major costs will be while away at university and what you can afford to contribute, you may want to take the time to prepare a budget with them before they leave.
Although they may be ultimately responsible for sticking to it, outlining how much they can afford to spend each week on socialising etc could help them manage their money better once their away from home.
For more help on writing up a budget follow our step by step guide, I want to stick to a budget.
9. Shop smart
Chances are that you will need to buy quite a few household items to prepare your son and daughter for life away from home.
Compare prices online before you buy, or even while you're out shopping and you could end up saving quite a considerable sum of money in total.
10. Consider renting out their room
If you need to find extra income to help support your son or daughter then why not consider renting out their room to a lodger while they are away studying.
Many lodgers will only need a room during the week meaning that if your child wants to come home at the weekend that they would still be able to.